Curation is a long-standing tradition of collecting, saving, and organizing objects. This typically consisted of books and historical materials for museums or organizations that held historic value for culture preservation. Today it takes on a different meaning. Organizations have evolved from collecting artifacts to digital curation of media and content. While the role of curation has largely belonged to scientists and scholars, and the content from official sources, social media has tipped curation on its head. Heck, even the Library of Congress decided to begin archiving tweets in October 2010. That says a lot about how important what we the people say and post is to world history.
Today's web does not limit the act of curation to those with a doctorate degree. Anyone and everyone can, and do, curate using everything from bookmarking sites to social networks. "Social curation," as we call it, is simply the act of sharing, categorizing, and spreading content to others. The content can be your own or someone else's. And, because you are sharing content that lives in its place of origin via linking, it is not considered stealing.
Why do people spend hours online bookmarking, pinning, and reposting? The answer is different for everyone, but we can be sure that it's for the same reason a woman might show off her shoe closet to a friend to hear, "OMG, those are so cute where did you find these?!" Or, a man might sit through an entire dinner carefully talking through the history of aviation and the ins and outs of his profession. We all want to be recognized for our expertise, talents, and savvy. Posting content we care about displays our creativity, interests, opinions, and personality. Being social creatures, we naturally want to share the best of things with our circles and get recognition for the good find. On the receiving end, people enjoy discovering and exploring things that are highly relevant and interesting.
Of course, when human behavior shifts, brands are quick to follow suit. In this article, we'll discuss how marketers can get in on the social curation boom in a meaningful way.
How content curation platforms work
There are a lot of websites out there offering curation-type services. They crop up and disappear with the latest craze. To get a clear sense of how a brand might leverage curation, we can break them down into categories.
Social bookmarking and news
Bookmarking services are the old-school tools of curation, having their start in browsers like Netscape. They've evolved dramatically since, with smarter features to match your interests to quality content. The best over the years have gone beyond saving and organizing articles by using social data to sort through noise and make better recommendations about content relevant to you. With the ability to follow interests, share, and "vote up" content, sites like StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, and others have turned curation into communities. According to recent stats from AddThis.com, StumbleUpon is the current hot item.
The top ways people share online by far are the Facebook "like" button, Facebook wall posts, and tweets. While sharing is super important to anyone's content marketing strategy, posting a link to friends is not exactly curation. A "like," for example, does not give you the ability to categorize and save an article. It simply means you deemed it worthy of showing up in your newsfeed for your friends to see. Similarly, with Twitter and LinkedIn sharing, once it has made its way through the feed, it's like a fish that got away. Sharing happens in many forms and formats, and the value of how and where things are shared will depend on your target audience.
Aggregation and syndication networks
Platforms that are built for posting and reposting -- and reposting and reposting -- stuff from anywhere are excellent for viral sharing. A good example of this is Tumblr, where you can post original content or in one click "reblog" other people's content. Photo sharing has become the trend in 2012, with the rise of Pinterest and other photo-centric aggregation websites such as Trap.it and TheFancy.com. Image-rich experiences bring about new ways brands can connect with their audiences while driving traffic back to their websites where these images are hosted.
On the following pages, we'll take a look at eight ways your brand can get in on the action.
1. Become a curator creator
This tactic is strictly for warriors because it takes time, diligence, and a step outside the marketing box to become one with a community. Becoming a curator will mean rolling up your sleeves to create your own Pinterest board or other social network profile. There's more to it than slapping your pretty little logo up there and waiting for all the people who should be so blessed as to be graced by your brand to come falling at your footsteps. You will actually need to become a worker bee in the community, contributing, making friends, and consistently showing up.
Be prepared to show appreciation for other's content, instigate public two-way conversations, and post stuff that would make any direct marketer cringe in disgust. Sure, if you're Urban Outfitters, customers would love to see a trendy chick trouncing around Coachella in the latest fashion. But they do not want to see a blinking "buy now" button. Most brands will need to get really creative about what entertainment value they can offer communities in these channels. On the bright side, it gives marketers the opportunity to communicate on a grass-roots level. Are you ready for the challenge? Go forth, warrior.
2. Create an interest-based content strategy
As marketers, we tend to base our communications around products and target markets. To be an awesome content curator or creator, you'll want to push that into the back of your mind and focus on interests. This can be accomplished with some listening, observation, and information collection on what your customers care about when they aren't out buying your product. Then, align their real-life interests with your brand position.
Once your interest-based segments are established, go through your existing content assets to determine what can be repurposed and, yes, curated toward their topics. An excellent example of this is what Whole Foods Market Austin did with its Pinterest boards. I'd argue food is love, but technically it does not sell hot kitchens, love, or recycling. With about 145,000 followers between these three boards alone, Whole Foods Market Austin seems to have a good understanding of who its audience is and how to align its brand to them. I couldn't help but follow.
3. Optimize for popular sharing topics
As a brand, all this might not make sense at first. If you put on your creative cap (in fact, get out of the office and have a brainstorm), you can easily develop content to meet the mainstream. Pay attention to memes and make Photoshop your best friend. How about a rainbow treatment on your product? A "What a unicorn would do if he worked in our office for a day" blog post or...well, you get the picture.
4. Treat photography as being as important as copy
With the popularity of blogging, the written word has reigned king. The term "content is king" was not reserved for articles. Video and photography is as valuable as an article. Consider image blogging using WordPress or, even better, platforms like Tumblr so it can easily spread across the web.
When you're writing your next brilliant article, put time into article images so people are inspired to not only share the article, but also to pin it on Pinterest, which creates a traffic loop back to your website. This applies to product landing pages and shopping cart pages too. How can you better use lifestyle photography and stylized product images so they are "pinterestable"? Videos are pinterestable too.
5. Make something worth sharing
While you're thinking about how photography fits into your content plan, consider that it must be stripped of buttons and call to actions. A "banner" ad image just won't do. Content worth sharing -- whether an article, video, or image -- must connect with the sharer on an emotional level or provide a ton of value in their eyes and be something they'd be proud to pass off to their friends.
Whether it's a white paper or a how-to video, or a rainbow-inspired cupcake, find that connection and bring on the value. For curation, consider its lasting value and how it fits into popular topics and interest lists. When you see their eyes light up and they send it forward into their communities, you've done your job well. Consider the inspiration that Nike brings to people through simple posters.
6. Make it sharable
Making share-worthy content is the first step. The second is making it easy to actually do. This is simple. Add sharing buttons to your content on your blog, website, shopping cart, and email campaigns. People will do things that require one-click. If LinkedIn is your inroad to business, put a nice big LinkedIn share button next to your white paper. Add sharing buttons above or below your blog posts, case studies, and articles will encourage people to StumbleUpon, pin it, and Digg it. It does not require your brand have a presence in these social networks. You're just making it easy for your visitors who do.
7. Make friends with influencers
Social bookmarking communities can be tough to break into. And if you don't have time to become a warrior (reference to tip 1), then it's good to become friends with one. Extend your influencer outreach to leaders in Reddit, Pinterest, and Tumblr communities so that when you have something great to share, you've aligned with partners to help get your content out. Be sure to follow the same best practices you would in blogger outreach to approach them appropriately, build value, and develop the relationship.
8. Post from the inside
Behind-the-scenes photos and videos are gold when it comes to social sharing. Especially if your brand has access to celebrities. If not, no worries. People just want to get to know the people behind the brand. A behind-the-scenes of how the grocer picks fruit, your weird office culture, and the care that goes into making a product on the factory floor can all be interesting stories. The Ace Hotel focuses on travel interviews to build a story around its brand on Tumblr. Urban Outfitters mixes up its highly produced photography with the occasional modeling shoot image taken with a smartphone for Instagr.am and then syndicated to Pinterest.
Curation is inspiration. Whether you're using social bookmarking to StumbleUpon fame or simply adding a few buttons to your site to make sharing easy, step outside your box and get creative. It will be fun.
"Set of vintage paper notes" image via Shutterstock.